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Cricket news - Dark Horses no more, New Zealand eye a bullish beginning
As much as New Zealand love flashing their "underdog" IDs at ICC events, they'll not be handed one here, not in the still-blustery early UK summer when Trent Boult is bending the white ball back into right-handers at will. This team may not have an all-action leader in the vanguard or propagate diving into advertising hoardings as an acceptable part of the fielding vocation, but it possesses two star batsmen in the batting engine room, a brisk opener, all-rounders and menace of different kinds in their attack.
That by itself is a good starting place to mount a World Cup challenge. But it also serves as a rude inflexion point to highlight all that is missing in their first opposition. In the past, Sri Lanka have arrived at major tournaments unfancied, then taken the events by the throat. This time they entertain fears of becoming a side-show in a 10-team event, inspiring little confidence with the 11th hour assembling of their squad, their performances in the last year or with the "we'll do our best" themes in press conferences.
But, this is Sri Lanka, the most consistent team in big events between 2007 and 2015 when they made five ICC finals and two semifinals. That has to count for something, if at all for invoking a sense of pride and kindred spirit among the squad. Who knows, if Lasith Malinga can get on a roll, if Angelo Mathews can shake himself out of his slumber, if Kusal Perera can channel his inner Durban avatar, if captain Karunaratne can script the greatest come-from-nowhere story.
That surely is one 'if' too many, but this sport still has an appetite for another Sri Lankan fairy-tale. And for that they'll need to start well, holding on to their catches and any other small packet of optimism coming their way. They can draw from the nugget that New Zealand lost both their Champions Trophy games in Cardiff two years ago, including that thriller against Bangladesh. Sri Lanka will be relieved that the format of the World Cup will allow a little room for error, but under the circumstances, they'll do well to avoid it against one of the tournament's heavyweights in their first game.
When: New Zealand vs Sri Lanka, CWC19, June 1, 10:30 Local, 15:00 IST
Where: Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
What to expect: Cardiff experienced a wet and cold spell since the Bank Holiday Monday but the weather cleared up two days out from the game. Saturday is forecast to be the warmest day of the week, with a high of 20 degrees Celsius and only a 10% chance of rain. As in the India-Bangladesh warm-up game, conditions will assist seamers with the morning start. The pitch traditionally slows down a touch through the game and could bring the spinners into the game in the afternoon.
Tom Latham has made an adequate recovery from his finger injury to slot into the middle-order and take the gloves. Williamson reckoned Colin Munro was "fine" and with Henry Nicholls battling an injury, should take up the opening slot uncontested. New Zealand love battering sub-continent teams with pace and seam and could sacrifice one spinner in the XI. Tim Southee is battling a non-serious niggle of his own, and should he get ruled out on the morning of the game, New Zealand can play both spinners and trust all-rounders Neesham and de Grandhomme to bowl after Boult and Lockie Ferguson.
Probable XI: Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), James Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee/Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson
Sri Lanka's possibilities of structuring a XI are limitless. They played Lahiru Thirimanne in the lower-order middle-order in the Scotland ODI, but it is evident that No.6 is far from ideal for the southpaw. Karunaratne all but confirmed that young Avishka Fernando will miss out, keeping Thirimanne at the top.
Kusal Perera will take the gloves and play in the middle-order. Jeffrey Vandersay bowled through Sri Lanka's optional net session on match eve and should join spin-bowling all-rounders Dhananjaya and Jeevan Mendis in a troika. Isuru Udana's recent form will force a toss up between Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal for the second seamer's slot.
Probable XI: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera (wk), Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Isurua Udana, Nuwan Pradeep/Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga
Did you know?
- Sri Lanka have the lowest win percentage (28.24) since the last World Cup among the 10 participating teams in this edition. They are 0-4 in games at Cardiff
- Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor share a prolific average partnership of 90.11 in the UK. Their last six stands here read: 121, 206, 101, 99, 95 & 83
- In the ODIs since April 2015, Sri Lanka have lost the most wickets (132) while New Zealand have taken the joint-most number of wickets (120) in the first PowerPlay
What they said:
"It's about the kind of cricket we want to be playing, showing the characteristics and attributes that are important to us as a side to try and be a competitive side day in day out and we know, we can beat anyone" - Kane Williamson doesn't believe in the noises from outside about his side's chances in the World Cup.
"I think all the members in our squad have done really well in the domestic level that's why selectors want to give them a chance All the other guys, in the last couple of years, failed to perform, that's why selectors want to give chance to those who do well in the domestic season" - Dimuth Karunaratne sees rationale in the last-minute assembling of the squad.
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